Summary: Coming to grips with God’s involvement and grace in times of tragedy and suffering.
An anniversary is a date marking a notable event. Birthdays and weddings mark notable events that are joyous, but all anniversaries aren’t joyous. Some anniversaries mark tragedy, suffering, and grief. My week began under that cloud because a week ago Saturday, September 8th, is one such date. It was this time last year that I shared with you the story of Will Johnson. Will Johnson was my nephew Daniel’s best friend. Will was a fun-loving 17 year-old who enjoyed sports, especially football. It was on September 8th of last year that Will was making a routine tackle, when he received a blow to his chest. He suffered a cardiac concussion and died. His mother, Louanne, is my sister Cynthia’s best friend. As you can imagine, this past year has been a difficult year. Last winter, they celebrated their first Thanksgiving and Christmas without Will. His birthday came without his being there to open presents. His friends graduated from high school, enjoyed their last summer, and enrolled in college last month. While I could hardly believe a year had passed since Will’s death, I imagine it was a long and painful year for his family. September 8th is an anniversary that marks tragedy for the Johnson family.
I have a few dates like that in my life, too. August 4, 1988. I was the assistant manager for the Municipal Pool in Chapel Hill, NC. I’m on duty in the deep end, when my partner begins frantically blowing his whistle in the shallow end. I turn to see him pulling a 5 year-old boy from the water. I clear the pool, swim to the shallow end, and we begin administering CPR. He’s not breathing, he’s regurgitating, but we have a faint pulse. We do all that we can, giving mouth-to-mouth, compressions to his heart, pleading with him to breathe, but he never does. He dies in route to the hospital. August 4th never passes, without my thinking of that little boy, whose name was David.
I imagine if asked, each of you could offer an anniversary, and there are certainly dates that hold similar significance for our nation. November 22, 1963 – John F. Kennedy is assassinated. April 19, 1993 – the invasion of the Branch Davidian strong hold in Waco, TX. April 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King, Jr. is killed. April 19, 1995 – the federal building in Oklahoma City is bombed. April 20, 1999 – gunfire and mayhem break out at Columbine High School in Colorado, and now, September 11, 2001 – the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC are attacked by terrorists. We as individuals, as a community, and as a country are now victims. We will not forget the date, September 11th.
Disbelief has enveloped our country; tears have been shed; individual and corporate prayers have been expressed; flags have been raised; money has been given; blood has been donated. And we, at this time, join millions who enter houses of worship asking "Why?" We come here this morning, having come face-to-face with evil, having been invaded by a group of people who have a blatant disregard for human life, and we don’t come this morning rejoicing. We come angry, numb, grief-stricken, horrified, and full of pain; and we come into the presence of God and say, "Make sense of this, oh God. Tell us why. If you are in control, if you are merciful, if you are sovereign, if you are love, help me understand."
I’ve felt the same way, and I’ve asked the same questions. On Friday, one of you said to me, "David, I’ve seen you make sense out of whole lot of situations, but you’ve got your work cut out for you trying to make sense out of this week." He’s right, but the truth is, no one can make sense out of this past week. No one can provide answers, but that’s why we’re here. In times like these, our hope comes from being together, and knowing that the person sitting beside you, in front of you, and across from you shares a fundamental belief in Jesus Christ, and that in being here together we can find hope. We can’t make sense of it today, but we can find hope.
John’s passage is a glimpse into the life of the grief-stricken. Mary and Martha’s brother, Lazarus, has died, and Jesus has come to be with his friends. Mary runs out to Jesus and says, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” She’s honoring Jesus by suggesting his presence and power could’ve saved Lazarus, but I also hear in Mary’s voice, “Where were you? Why weren’t you here?” Mary’s upset that Jesus wasn’t there to prevent Lazarus’ death.
When someone dies, anger is normal, and to question God’s role in that death is normal as well. I have no doubt that people have been angry this past week: angry at the terrorists who carried out such a horrific act; angry at our government for having been caught off guard; angry at the FAA and the airports for not having better security; and angry at God that He wasn’t there to stop it.